The Letters Page: Episode 223
Writers' Room: Fanatic #27
The Last Temptation? EVER?!
Run Time: 1:28:56
We start off by talking about a cat, but not a real cat! Sorry for getting sidetracked. You know us.
Then we talk about Fanatic! And Apostate! And a story that you know, but we've never gotten this in-depth on.
- Today’s topic is “The Last Temptation of Helena”, which is the cover blurb from Fanatic vol. 1 #27 from June ’77 (aka the cover from DE Fanatic’s First Appearance variant’s incapacitated “Notable Defeat”). This issue is the end of a 3-issue arc in that book. The first entry, #25 in May, was the first appearance of Apostate.
- That being said, this version of Apostate doesn’t “stick” and he gets largely re-written in his next appearance (as does Fanatic herself to some extent) when this title ends and Absolution resets things. As-written here, he really is a fallen angel. Most of Fanatic’s story in the pre-Absolution days was really hand-wavy on the whole “she’s an angel who fights demons and stuff” thing. They hadn’t put a lot of time into fleshing all of that out or working through the implications. She’s there to look totally rad while the Rule of Cool runs the show. It worked well enough to get a following of readers, but Absolution took a look back, cherry-picked the stuff that was good, and made a more “definitive” take on the characters. Basically the version of Apostate that we all know and
love hatelove to hate is this Absolution version. Today’s story is not about him, but about that earlier hand-wavy version of him.
- So, #25 introduces Bezaliel the fallen angel, in #27 she’s “defeated” by his lies and goes into hiding. Then we get 2 issues of vignettes of what the world is like without Fanatic. Then in #30 she returns in her Redeemer form. That places #27 as the middle of the arc, but the linchpin for what happens to either side of it.
- What do we know about this issue so far? Apostate’s around and he’s been trying to get to her for two issues now and by the end of this one she’s undone/convinced that she should go away. Because Apostate’s gimmick hasn’t been established yet, his m.o. is somewhat different. They’re both just presented as being angels at this point, and that’s the angle he uses. She’s no better than he is since they’re both just angels. Look at how tortured you are and how great I am - why not just be like me? Maybe he engineers a situation where her standard approach would be to be this buttoned-up person but he convinces her to just let loose and do what she wants instead of what she thinks she should do. Then she does so and winds up feeling fear, regret, pain, etc. and has to shut herself off from the temptation. She “loses” just by deciding that she’s more of a threat than is worth it and goes into seclusion.
- The obvious structural reference to draw is to the Temptation of Christ. We have a series of temptations presented that she rejects, but the final one is to “absolve herself of duty”. You’re not responsible for all of these people. Sure, you can help them if you want, but it’s not your responsibility. That’s Apostate’s goal here, but it’s not apparent until it happens. Anyway, how do we get to that point?
- Maybe the thing that gets her to hang up the sword is a realization (due to a situation Apostate engineered) that she’s more of a danger than she’s worth having around. Apostate is not certain that he’d be able to defeat her in a straight fight, so he has to be sneaky and try to shake her faith (this prompts the question of whether she has faith-based-strength yet, and she likely does to the extent that faith-based heroes do generally in that the stronger her faith the stronger she is, but not yet operating in the “I believe a thing is true and therefore it is” paradigm). Hmm… if part of her belief is that “The Lord wants me to do these things” maybe the angle of attack here is to make her question whether the Lord is possibly wrong about that.
- To break things down again: issue #25 has this fallen angel guy show up and they fight, #26 has him trying to tempt her with doing what she wants/being herself, and #27 is the introduction of the idea that she might be a danger to people and that maybe she shouldn’t be doing this job. We just need to get her to the point where she considers the thought of “maybe I’m not the angel for this job” and then he hits her with the “well, if the Lord gave you this job and you’re the wrong person to be doing it, then that means the Lord was wrong about something” thing and shatters her faith.
- So, in #26 we can have her facing some terrible threat (a bunch of demons or something). Christopher likes the idea of the temptations being in a “desert” that she created - like, they’re in a city that she’s destroyed in the process of fighting these things. “Gee, look at all of that collateral damage you caused.” We can open #27 with her in triumph after fighting the baddies from the previous issue - Apostate may be a liar, but he was right about her being more effective against the demons when she doesn’t hold back. This could be a largely conflict-free issue (maybe when Apostate makes a good point she attacks briefly, which he parries, before going back to talking). The “action” here are just her lashing out as she struggles with her faith.
- Plotting things out again: #26 ends with her flying in to fight all the demons, lots of action, but not the full fight. We open #27 with narration and maybe a half page of the end of the fight, then the reader turns to a big splash page showing the devastation she’s caused in the process of winning. Maybe we have Apostate approach her and turn her around to see what she’s done (and he’s approaching this as a “friend” although we know and she knows that he’s not, but his demeanor is friendly). She’s destroyed all of those demons and he’s gesturing to point out her victories, but in the process is actually drawing her attention to the damage.
- Adam very briefly considers the idea that the “demons” where people Apostate had disguised, but they think that’s too far for this period. Having her do “a good thing” in defeating demons is fine, but we have the aftermath shown. Apostate’s narration about the good she’s done juxtaposed with people helping each other out of burning cars or whatnot and looking at her with fear. She’s not supposed to be “better than people” but she sure has acted that way in her disregard for their well-being. So she’s left with the dilemma about whether or not she was the right being for this job.
- We should probably throw some misused scripture in there too to really twist the knife. They don’t have a verse ready to mind, but likely something that Apostate’s using to equate the people’s fear of her to a fear of God, which is piling on the idea of “she is like God” or “God is wrong”. This is likely one of those points where she attacks him in frustration. Maybe the narration at the end of the issue is her voice as she’s coming to grips with this thing that she must give up.
- Adam brings up the obvious third option that “maybe her ‘orders’ aren’t coming from God” but that angle isn’t really part of her story yet (well, there are a number of alternatives beyond the dichotomy that Apostate is presenting, but that’s the obvious one for this kind of story). It’s not like she got a memo from God, she just has a calling to protect people and smite Evil. If you ask the question of whether she’s actually been given this task by God or if she just wants to do this you invite her response being “I’m wrong” rather than “God’s wrong” and having that option present in the narrative gives her an out.
- Her eventual way out of this dilemma is to just do the “blind faith” Redeemer thing. Don’t overthink it, just believe that God has a plan. Okay, fine, we can frame it somewhat more positively as a “ignore these distractions” kind of thing.
- Anyway, it’s worth reiterating here that this story is part of the reason for the revamp of the characters. “Is actually an angel” wasn’t sustainable and this was a point at which it became apparent. Up through this point they might occasionally ask the question but the answer was always a definitive Yes! And she smites Evil!" and unless you’re going all-in on the idea that the belief system you’re drawing these things from is true (which this publisher was not* trying to do), then it’s inherently not sustainable as a conceit for a character. Given the other stuff that Sentinel Comics had already established as being true within the setting it’s kind of an interesting corner they painted themselves into. Like, the “Archangel Gabriel” showed up in issue #22 and told her she needed to come back to the heavenly host and she said that she needed to remain here (and he insinuates that she’s choosing the path of a fallen angel).
- They toy, very briefly, with Apostate’s point being “God is dead” rather than “God was wrong”, but they think that the latter is actually a better point for the thing he’s trying to do as a fallible God is more devastating to her than a perfect one that’s gone for whatever reason.
- So, “everything you’re doing here is what God wanted you to do” is juxtaposed with all of the destruction she caused in the process. That covers her actions. The other thing to have set up over the course of these issues is who she is. Back in #22 we got the seed planted that she was on the path of a fallen angel. Something we can do here is to maybe grant that “you’re an ‘angel of the Lord’, but what does that mean?” That is a central question for Fanatic across her whole existence, basically, but really ask the explicit question with this story. Who is she and where did she come from? Apostate is making the case that she’s “just like him” and therefore maybe God was wrong for choosing her. Maybe layer on a bit about how if she’s God’s chosen instrument then whatever actions she takes are “correct”, but what does that mean if she causes bad things to happen in the process? If you are fallible when acting on His behalf, does that make Him fallible?
- Oh, it would be fun for him to come in with a bit about how if she’s not a fallen angel then she must go back and forth to heaven pretty regularly, right? She remembers heaven, right? And we know that she does not. Apostate knows that and is just playing up what it’s like from his “memories” before his fall. If she doesn’t remember since she’s been on Earth she must be some kind of flawed vessel (and therefore another reason God was wrong to choose her).
- We could still use one more thing that comes up that is something that she’s usually really “buttoned up” about and it should probably come from her rather than something Apostate uses to needle her. We have her lash out at him when he makes a “good point” and that’s happened a few times (he might even wind up a little worse for wear afterwards, but he’s “just trying to help her here” and so goes back to talking). In those cases she eventually says something to refute his point. What’s going to “undo her” here is that whatever her refutation point is winds up causing a realization.
- There’s some talk here about how to go about setting up that realization. One “maybe too on-the-nose” option was to have some kid hiding in a building say in fear that there are two monsters fighting. As part of that they also discuss that she can shed her wings - the cover lacks them mostly as a stylistic choice, but that is an actual thing she can do. Maybe in this case we use them as an indicator of her faith and as she’s having the foundations knocked out from under her the wings start losing feathers and looking more scraggly. Also maybe her sword becomes too heavy for her to lift (or rather her strength is no longer sufficient to wield such a ridiculously oversized sword). Eventually he parries and she just drops it entirely. Panel of it kicking up dust as it hits the ground. It immediately stops glowing and starts to rust.
- There we go, we have Apostate just continue to “make observations” and point out her wings and her sword. He’s very concerned about her losing the strength that her faith provided. She can definitely still be an instrument as she is now. Work that she can do. Good that she can accomplish. As he’s comforting her he runs his hand over what’s left of her wings and the feathers return, but black. That’s when she finally nopes out of this whole situation. If she’s going to fall, it’s for the best that she goes away.
- That leads into the two issues of flashbacks and a present without Fanatic around. The era is probably wrong, but it would be fun if they changed the trade dress for #29 to be Apostate (Adam may have to do some research into whether comics ever did that sort of thing this early). The point is a world without Fanatic.
- Anyway, we get there by having a few issues of them fighting with this issue having her lay out all the ways that Apostate is wrong, but then he just turns it around and walks her through the reasons that what he’s saying is who she is.
- How do we end? Maybe just having her talking through her decision process. If she is to fall, she would be a destroyer and it’s better for the world if she just goes off by herself so that doesn’t happen. We can have her monologue in captions over a montage of her removing her armor and whatnot, leaving it as almost a shrine there in the desert. Adam suggests a final panel showing the armor on the ground with the sword sticking upright. Christopher suggests that we have that, but then Apostate picks up the sword, “corrupts” it, and says something like “Another one for the flock of the damned.” We have “oh no, a villain doing a thing” rather than the simple poignancy of the discarded armor.
- Does she tear off her wings? No, she just sheds them like she usually does to go into “civilian mode”. Like, she can “shut her power down to not manifest Evil” as the point of it - she thinks that any display of her powers will just be Bad News and so she turns it all off as much as she can.
- Why does the cover show Fanatic without wings? Did Apostate offer to make her a “normal person”? How seriously did she take that offer? They don’t think that he directly offers to “take the burden” from her or similar. He likely prompts that she can give it up, but not that he’ll do something. The “temptation” here is suggesting that she is better than humanity not that she could be like them. She doesn’t have to “transfer” the power to somebody else or anything - if she believes that she no longer has powers that will just be true and that’s kind of the angle that Apostate is taking here.
- We found out in the Apostate episode that the Scholar has some knowledge of the Host when he banishes the dark angel; Seer and Idolater also know (it’s questionable how much they know, but they know something) - did anybody who she’s not likely to try to kill on sight ever try to talk to Fanatic about what she is? How well did that go? They don’t think that any heroes do. The various Host-related villains mention it occasionally, but it’s easy for her to disregard them and just get to the smiting. What would be the advantage of Soothsayer Carmichael or Scholar or Nightmist trying to “Well, actually…” her about what she is? They could kind of see Carmichael almost accidentally going off about it as he’s talking about whatever and her just ignoring him. If the Scholar and Fanatic had a duo book that ran for a while so they had enough time/space to explore it this sort of thing may have happened eventually, but that book didn’t happen. Scholar is somebody who is very aware of boundaries and where he stands with people.
- The mention in the Fall of the Prime Wardens episode of the Spear of Longinus prompted a question: just how accessible is Fanatic to a non-Christian audience? The spear itself is a reference to a story that I couldn’t even fault many Christians for missing, but a lot of her art is also a reference to biblical stories or other art that might go over a non-Christian’s head, right? Would such readers be able to tell which elements of her stories are rooted in tradition and which are unique to Sentinel Comics? Most things are going to be explained to the reader. The Spear of Longinus wouldn’t just show up and expect you to know what it is - the legend attached to it would be related in the story. Think of the scenes at the college near the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark - they explain what the Ark of the Covenant is. The storytelling is also just there to tell a good story. Adam brings up Duck Tales - he was really into it as a kid. Watching it as an adult is when he recognizes all of the mythological deep cuts that were made throughout the run of the show. Fanatic’s comics are the same way - they make sense and tell a good story regardless of whether the reader knows the relevant belief system and its associated stories. Also, while she has a lot of Christian iconography, she’s very rarely “preachy” (she’s more on the smiting end of things). Honestly, some Christians likely take issue with how she’s portrayed. The timing of the ascent of Fanatic as a character coincides with the ascent of heavy metal as a musical genre - all of the angelic/demonic pageantry that got associated with the style bled over into the comics too and she winds up being a very “metal” character. The Satanic Panic would have also impacted her comics due to the cultural zeitgeist surrounding anything seen as promoting such things.
- How often do her stories have to engage in exposition to give the audience a brief theology lesson? Were there any cases of a non-Christian writer being assigned to her comic and getting such things wrong (beyond the “Fanatic tries every religion” story)? Not really “theology” lesson, but more just the brief “here’s the story of the Spear of Longinus sufficient to get you up to speed” kinds of things. They’re not going to worry about “getting things right” and are more likely going to intentionally tweak something to get it to fit into the story being told. Now, sometimes that might be to mean that things happened differently in the world of Sentinel Comics, but maybe the person relating the story is intentionally misleading who they’re talking to or whatever. Adam’s less interested in a non-Christian writer getting things wrong and more interested in a non-Christian writer who nevertheless understands the character and so is able to write them exceedingly well regardless. Additionally, the fact that “Fanatic’s mythology” isn’t Christian mythology but is instead just Christian-themed means that writers “getting it wrong” isn’t necessarily something to worry about. That’s part of why the Host stuff is invented after a while - to give an easy out for why her “being an angel” doesn’t really work. She’s just a person who’s been exposed to these stories and then accepted them as true. One could ask the question of whether Fanatic is Catholic or not? Some other denomination? She fails the litmus test for most of them. She’s probably coded as being Catholic more than anything, but that’s partly just because that’s what people default to when trying to write her and it has the most (and most recognizable) pageantry but she’s not really required to be written to match up to those ideals. Christopher proposes the opposite direction from Adam’s earlier take: it’s interesting to see devout Christian writers get her wrong. Like, somebody comes in and writes her such that she’s always following all of the rules and whatnot, but it’s just… wrong. It’s more important to be true to the character than to her supposed belief system.
- Who’s the goat guy who appears on the First Appearance Fanatic card? Had the goat man made any additional appearances? How did he become a goat guy? He’s a demon (not one of Apostate’s guys, later he was retconned as being from Æternus but that place hadn’t been invented yet at the time). His name is Black Capra and he first showed up in this Wraith story with the standard “I’m the ruler of Hell and I’m here to take over the Earth” kind of plot. He was a one-off guy who later got rolled up into the Æternus stuff.
- What did Fanatic think of Iron Legacy (given their similar approaches to things like “rest” and “how to deal with wrongdoing”)? They don’t think that Fanatic sees this guy and thinks that “he gets it.” The whole tyranny thing isn’t really her style.
- Way back in the Southwest Sentinels/Void Guard episode you mentioned that their villains were all Omegas and that Quetzalcoatl was one as well; additionally, there was at least one statement that pantheons besides the Egyptian one didn’t exist in Sentinel Comics (Calypso being a specific example mentioned as somebody who took their name from mythology, but was just a person with powers) - was this recent episode a retcon or is Quetzalcoatl just an Omega who thinks he’s an ancient Meso-American god? Quetzalcoatl is an Omega, but he thinks that he’s a god and the powers that he got from Isoflux Alpha allow him to connect to this other realm. Maybe his powers managed to connect him to some other thing that already existed, but it’s unclear.
- Are there other Meso-American “gods” out there? What do they think of this “new” Quetzalcoatl and his plan to merge their realm with the material plane? No other such deities have shown up in Sentinel Comics (or if they have they were just a one-off character that used the name and theme but never showed up again and weren’t important - we’re talking sub-Seer, D-list villains here). To put a bit of a button on the “no other pantheons” thing - the Egyptian pantheon and how they operate/what they are/how they fit into the history of the setting is very well-defined in Sentinel Comics. Everything else is very question marky and hand wavy. The Meso-American stuff is about as hand-wavy as the Christian stuff for Fanatic’s stories as far as Sentinel Comics goes. Now, there are very intentional reasons for that in terms of Adam and Christopher making this stuff up here in the real world, but in the Metaverse it’s kind of just a result of what “stuck” over time. There were probably a bunch of mythology-based characters/stories back in the Golden Age, but Ra is the one that stood the test of time and is the reason for the Egyptian stuff being relevant in the modern comics. Even the Ennead didn’t “stick” the first time they were used and only became a lasting thing when a later writer redid the story.
- Did the writers have a plan for a larger Quetzalcoatl story that had to be put on hold due to OblivAeon? Would this story have featured a more powerful Quetzalcoatl that may have warranted his own deck in a certain card game? It wasn’t written so much to set up the next big thing so much as to set something up so that if it wound up resonating with readers they could make something from it. It wasn’t a plan so much as giving later writers more threads to pick up and being in a post-OblivAeon period doesn’t negate those threads’ existence.
- Does Quetzalcoatl’s realm have a name/purpose? It has not yet been explored in detail. It’s full of bright colors and weird creatures, but we don’t know a lot more than that yet.
- Does this story leave the door open for more Meso-American deities to appear in Sentinel Comics? Potentially, but how much that works or doesn’t is up in the air yet.
- Does Quetzalcoatl rule this realm or is he just from it? He’s not even from it. He thinks he is and is certainly connected to it. The question of whether Quetzalcoatl is really who he thinks he is isn’t answered yet. It is potentially unanswerable.
- Are there other powerful Aztec, etc. beings from that realm similar to the Egyptian deities coming from the same realm? There could be, although not likely the same way as the Egyptian entities all being from that realm. Maybe just more “theming” similarities like with our human-turned-Quetzalcoatl.
- Is this realm a Heaven dimension, a Hell dimension, or just some other place? Just another place. It’s more like the Realm of Discord (although without the, well, Discord theme - maybe “vibrancy” given what we’ve seen so far?) or the Fey-Court (which is more connected to reality than places like the RoD or Quetzalcoatl’s realm - things crossing over to places like this are rare, but comics tend to tell stories about when the rare things actually happen).
- Given what this realm, the Grey, and Æternus do in terms of “taking over” reality, is that the usual thing that happens when realms come into contact? It’s not automatically what happens. There are some that are more “aggressive” but others might just be static next to one another. Adam makes a metaphor using thermodynamics where “heat” spreads out from hot objects to cold objects until equilibrium is reached, only instead of heat we’re dealing with some magical/metaphysical “energy” that means that some realms transfer their essence into the one they’re placed next to. The “normal” reality could probably “take over” other realities if you found one at a lower “temperature”. There isn’t a “standard” behavior when two realms interact though. They don’t think that Quetzalcoatl’s realm would take over like Æternus or the Grey would. You’d see more of a melding than a replacement.
- You’ve said that each incarnation of Ra goes through the dawn/zenith/sunset arc - I assume that Anubis is aware of this cycle and so what was he thinking when he initially denied Ra the power he needed to do the Horus of Two Horizons thing? Did he think that Ra would find power somewhere else or did the deal made with Ammit take him by surprise? Anubis is aware of the cycle of Ra, but given that Ra had already basically betrayed Anubis once he didn’t want to have anything to do with him at this point. Maybe he’ll find power elsewhere, maybe not, but he washes his hands of this whole thing. Anubis has his own stuff to deal with that’s more important. Not my circus; not my monkeys. Anubis might be more surprised that Ra would even entertain making a deal with Ammit. He’s a hot-headed idiot, but surely he’s not that much of a hot-headed idiot. Maybe “surprised” is wrong. At least it’s not outright shock so much as a disdainful “Ammit? Really?”
- You said that the Ennead have had multiple avatars, but also that originally all of the Egyptian relics but the Staff of Ra had been locked away in the underworld - what happened to get the Ennead’s relics out into the world? Did a previous Ra really piss off Anubis? Ammit is what happened. She has all sorts of schemes and she is trying to cause more chaos and create more connections between the underworld and the “overworld” so she got those relics out into the world where some foolhardy grave robbers might find them. It sure would be a shame if she were to do something like that again.
- Are the members of the Ennead always awakened more or less simultaneously? Were there iterations of their avatars that didn’t have all 9 of them and were therefore not as strong? We know they aren’t simultaneous due to how things shook out in Vertex - they sought one another out once they took up the relics, but it wasn’t all in one go. In the Inversiverse we even got a different set of gods making up the group.
- You said that Baptism by Fire #3 was largely the Ennead members recapping how their previous incarnations had been defeated by various avatars of Ra - were these largely the same incident or was this a gripe session that covered many different time periods? Do any recount a time when they weren’t a villain but Ra killed them anyway? They think it was all different time periods, but this was 9 different stories related while Ra was tied up and there are still other things that happen in that issue (like Fanatic finding out what’s happened and resolving to get involved). These have got to be mere snippets rather than detailed stories. These are a few panels per story in a montage. Maybe a few of them go together as the same incident, but they’re still really brief, but at least we get some different time-periods’ take on the various gods.
- Does Atum have the highest body count of an Earth native given that he vaporized an entire city? Ignoring the NightMist thing, he might be up there. Infinitor might and he’s an earthling, but has mostly killed non-earthlings. Baron Blade and Citizen Dawn would do murder at that scale, but always fail at anything that would get to that point. Omnitron as well but they think that even across its various incarnations it doesn’t get to Atum’s level but might be the closest. Atum very well might be unless they’re forgetting somebody.
- Who decided to put all of the Ennead’s relics in the same room? That would be Ammit, as mentioned.
- What would you prefer regarding Writers’ Rooms: look at the cover first and then listen to the episode or vice versa? They don’t know that it matters. Adam would look at the cover first as that’s what happens with an actual comic - you see the cover first and then find out what’s inside (sometimes what’s inside isn’t as good as the cover, but them’s the breaks). Christopher would listen first so that he could hear what went into the creation of it before seeing how it turned out. Do whichever brings you more joy.
- It’s already done! It was used in Definitive Edition. Well done, Adam.